South West Rocks

A small coastal town at the mouth of the Macleay River, South West Rocks makes for an idyllic seaside escape. Flanked by sandy beaches and national parks, it’s known for its picturesque Norfolk pines, family-friendly atmosphere, intriguing colonial heritage and exceptional diving.

Man watches sunrise from Little Bay Beach, near South West Rocks

Beaches and watersports

There are half a dozen pretty beaches to choose from around South West Rocks. Horseshoe Bay is the most popular. Right in the centre of town, it has a sheltered cove and a top right hand surf break. Front Beach stretches for 3.5km and is generally quiet, or get away from it all at the secluded Gap Beach, which is accessed by 4WD only.

Just offshore is Fish Rock Cave. With a 125m-long dive through cave, it’s one of the world’s best cave diving sites and also a breeding ground for rare grey nurse sharks. Join a dive tour with South West Rocks Dive Centre. The calm waters of Back Creek are popular for stand-up paddleboarding – hire the gear from SWR SUP.

Captain Cook's lookout located beneath the Smoky Cape Lighthouse near Hat Head National Park, Kempsey Area

Things to do

Explore the historic ruins of Trial Bay Gaol, perched on the cliffs above the sea. Taking 13 years to build, it opened in 1886. In the First World War it was an internment camp for people of German descent living in Australia. Explore the rest of the peninsula on the Powder Magazine and Monument Hill walking tracks.

Further south is the Smoky Cape Lighthouse. Dating back to 1891, it’s one of the oldest lighthouses in Australia and was designed by architect James Barnet, who also designed the General Post Office in Martin Place. Take in the view from the top or follow the Smoky Cape Walking Track along the coastline.

Tee off at the 18-hole golf course, throw a line in to fish at the river estuary or browse the Beachside Markets on the second Saturday of the month. At the Boatman’s Cottages you can pick up some local arts and crafts or catch a movie on the weekend at The Roxy Cinema, housed in the 1926 School of Arts Community Hall.

Trial Bay Gaol in South West Rocks, Kempsey

Yarriabini National Park

Northwest of South West Rocks is Yarriabini National Park. It’s a place of dense rainforest, bubbling creeks, tranquil picnic areas and glossy black cockatoos. Climb to the top of the 498m Mount Yarrahapinni for views of almost the entire Macleay Valley Coast. The park is also great for mountain bike riding and scenic drives.

Getting there and where to stay

South West Rocks is a five-hour drive from Sydney and just under six hours from Brisbane. You can also catch a train from Sydney to Kempsey, just 30min away, or fly into Port Macquarie Airport and hire a car for the one-hour drive north. Places to stay include campgrounds, multiple holiday parks, motels and historic cottages.